It’s Safer Internet Day today! Many people nowadays, especially those youngish adults who grew up with the internet, like to think that they are pretty well-versed on the subject of internet safety. They assume that days like this are just meant for children and older people.
However, there are so many examples of people falling afoul of poor internet safety practice. Politicians are undone by tweets they sent 7 or 8 years ago, fake news is spread by people who believe it and people accidentally give their credit card details to thieves by inputting them on a dodgy site – keeping up to date on safe internet practices is essential. In honour of this day, here are 8 tips on how to navigate the web safely.
You’ve probably seen several variations of the following ads at the bottom of a website:
These are spam ads and you shouldn’t click on them (no matter how lonely you are), and the less reputable a site you are on, the worse these ads can be. Clicking on them might bring the threat of malware or could even get you involved with some sort of scam which leads to you paying money to shysters in pyramid schemes.
Unsecure sites are ones that are not encrypted, so the information shared between you and the website is not kept secret from criminals should they intercept it. Secured sites encrypt this information so that criminals will not be able to read it.
This year Google has begun to flag sites still on HTTP as “Not Secure” in scary red font in the web address bar. If a site isn’t on HTTPS then it will say “Secure” with a nice, reassuring green padlock. If a site doesn’t have this then do not enter your payment information into it, because this is not a secure place to do it and you could end up getting your details stolen by criminals.
Remember that whether you’re currently in employment or think you might like to have a job at some point in your life, employers will now likely check out your social media profiles. Anyone, including politicians, can be felled by the things that their social media selves decide to post about, reply to or retweet. You can delete posts, but once your employer has seen your post about how boring work is or how annoying your boss is, they can’t unsee it. Think about what you post and, if necessary, set your profiles to private.
Malware is the collective term for viruses, Trojans and spyware. It is software designed to do damage to your computer and/or steal sensitive data. It can also be downloaded automatically from certain websites or pages. Generally, don’t go on sites you don’t trust and definitely do not download files from them. The big green DOWNLOAD button might look fun to press, but it probably won’t be fun for your computer to deal with whatever you’ve downloaded.
Fake news has been in the real news a lot recently, and is being blamed for everything from Brexit to the outcome of the US Presidential election. Social media plays a big part in this, since it’s easy for users to share and promote stories. When you’re crawling Facebook or Twitter and you see something that riles you up or seems too good to be true, search around on other sites to see if it’s backed up. Don’t just believe it and move on.
There’s no point in anti-virus software that is not up to date, because malware software can only fight off threats that it knows about and know hows to deal with. New threats require updated software to deal with them. Additionally, make sure your software is actively doing its job – depending on the software, your anti-virus might automatically scan regularly or it might require you to initiate it. Either way, make sure it happens frequently and keep it up to date. Stop putting off that update and take the plunge, it won’t be that bad.
Note the plural: passwords. Don’t use one password for everything just because it’s easier to remember. If a criminal gets hold of this password then every single one of your accounts is left exposed and ready to be unlocked. By now you’ve probably seen the list of the most common passwords, so hopefully you’ve changed your ways and you don’t use “123456”, “qwerty” (criminals have seen keyboards too, you know) and “password” (really?).
A strong password has:
You could even make an acronym of a sentence to make a password that’s both strong and easy to remember. A password manager is a good way of making sure you have a strong password for each of your accounts. It keeps all of your passwords in a safe vault, all you need to do is remember the strong password you put on the vault itself.
Fake social media profiles are very easy to set up since you don’t have to provide verification of any of the details. You can grab a random photo off the internet, make up a name and then set your birthday and gender to whatever you want. Fake social media profiles are an arm of fake news, but they’re also used by thieves and scam artists to get you to give them money, personal details and so on. As a general rule, don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know in real life.
The internet has become such a large part of our daily lives that it’s easy to forget that there are lots of people on it who are looking to do some harm. But, you shouldn’t be afraid of it. As long as you’re smart (don’t use “password”) and keep these tips in mind, you should be able to navigate it safely.